Gophers’ men’s golf improving despite no school competitions this fall

Gophers’ men’s golf keeps fresh outside of NCAA play.

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Jack Rodgers

Thomas Longbella lines up a shot on the putting green in the indoor golf training facility in April 2019. The facility borders the Les Bolstad Golf Course and allows for practice throughout winter months.

Matthew Kennedy

With the Big Ten bowing out of fall competition, the Gophers’ men’s golf team is facing a fall season without collegiate play.

Two upperclassmen, Angus Flanagan and Thomas Longbella, played well this past summer competing in tournaments not affiliated with the NCAA. Flanagan won the Minnesota State Open and earned a spot as an amateur in the professional 3M Open. Longbella had a special weekend in the Wisconsin State Open, finishing fifth, and won the Lake Wissota Open in his hometown of Chippewa Falls.

Even without fall competition, things are looking up for the men’s golf program, which hasn’t risen to the top of the pack in quite some time. Head coach Justin Smith, who was a key player for the Gophers when they reached the NCAA Finals three times (in 2001, 2002 and 2003) and won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2002 and 2003, would wholeheartedly agree.

“Specifically for Angus and Thomas, they competed at a high level we haven’t seen out of Gophers for a long time in the summer months. Them finishing high and winning tough tournaments, competing with some of the best players locally and in the world, are priceless opportunities not just for them but the program as a whole,” Smith said.

Aside from the high praise he has for the upperclassmen on the roster, Smith is also excited about newcomers on the team — freshmen Alex Eickhoff and Ben Warian.

“They fit our culture amazingly. They are coming into a team that was prepared to win a Big Ten championship and go deep into the NCAAs last year, and we’ve got just about everybody back from that squad. Alex is someone who hits the ball really far, who could tidy up some scoring opportunity areas, and Ben is someone that plots it along, similar to Connor Glynn, and needs some more precision to his game. These are two guys who are going to be tremendous fixtures for the future of our team,” he said. “Great students that are even greater people. Can’t wait to continue to see what they have in store for us.”

Smith’s overall goal for his team this fall is to provide his players with opportunities to continue improving, which means competing. Student-athletes need to continue playing against top competition during the offseason to prepare for similar situations when it matters.

Making calls to different country clubs around the Twin Cities and trying to find open tournaments is crucial to keep his players ready heading into the spring. For a Gophers’ team brewing with talent, if the team has continued success in noncollegiate play this fall, perhaps that will lead to a spectacular spring.

“Just for our players, seeing their scores next to their names online after playing a round of 18, having that consistent formula of using our indoor and outdoor facilities the best we can at Les Bolstad and playing in tournaments with top competition like our golfers did in the summer will prepare our men for a smooth transition into the spring,” he said.